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With camper numbers dwindling, officials are considering closing Kandiyohi County Park 2

WILLMAR -- Kandiyohi County Park 2 may be put on the selling block unless more campers show up in 2006.

Reduced camping fees for the park are being proposed to help increase its summertime population.

If approved by the County Board of Commissioners next week, County Park 2 will have the lowest fees of all the county's parks. It's hoped the action will bring back campers who were scared off when fees were increased for 2005.

County Commissioner Richard Larson said the county should consider "disposing" of the park if the usage doesn't increase substantially next year. The comment, made during a meeting Monday morning with the Board of Commissioners and park managers, was orally supported by at least two other commissioners.

County Administrator Wayne Thompson said an abstract of the park property is in the process of being drawn up. "There is some thought of selling Park 2," said Thompson in a brief interview after the meeting.

The park, located on Big Kandiyohi Lake, saw a nearly 50 percent decrease in campers in 2005, said Thompson. The park has 90 campsites. It usually has about 24 seasonal campers that stay at the park for most of the summer. In 2005, said Thompson, there were about 12.

Higher camping fees the county charged in 2005 for monthly and seasonal campers were cited as a reason for the decline.

Last year, the commissioners had originally proposed dramatic increases to the 2005 monthly and seasonal camping rates that would have added hundreds of dollars to campers' bills and given the county needed revenue to maintain the county's park system.

In the end, the commissioners adopted an increase that was less than what had been proposed, but by then the damage had been done.

Matthew Bergmann, manager for County Park 2, said Monday that when word got out about the proposed fee increase for the monthly and seasonal rates, some of that park's regular long-term customers either went to other county parks that had more amenities, or they sold their campers.

By the time he sent letters saying that the increase wasn't as high as had been expected, he'd already lost many of his longtime customers.

Thompson recommended that the fees for all of the parks, except County Park 2, remain the same for 2006. He said the park revenues exceeded expenditures by $24,000 in 2005.

He recommended that the fees for County Park 2 be "adjusted substantially" for 2006. Instead of the current daily fee of $21.15, the proposed rate would be $19.50. The current monthly rate of $390 would go to $300 and the seasonal rate would go from the current rate of $948 to $750 in 2006.

Thompson said the county, and not the park manager, would "eat most of that cost" so the park manager could still make a living.

Commissioner Harlan Madsen said the situation at Park 2 should be carefully monitored next year. He said the park is a positive asset to the community but agreed if the usage doesn't increase, the commissioners may need to consider selling the property.

Commissioner Richard Falk agreed with that sentiment.

Thompson said the park is 20 to 25 acres. A majority of the land was purchased in 1956 with another 10 acres purchased in 1978. He said if the park is sold, it would be sold "to the highest bidder." The public access to the lake would be retained, he said.

If the number of campers increases next year, he said, any discussion about selling the park would likely be put on hold.

Bergmann said it was difficult to get people to the park last year, but "when you get them there, they love it."

The commissioners and park managers also discussed problems with pets in the park.

Several park managers said they have had trouble with vicious dogs and asked if there was a way to ban some breeds, for example some of the breeds commonly referred to as pit bulls, from the county parks.

Ken Heinen, manager of County Park 5 on Games Lake, said one camper brought a bobcat to the park this summer, which attracted many children to that campsite.

Thompson said he will research the possibility of creating a policy to restrict exotic animals and certain breeds of dogs from the parks.

Falk said Kandiyohi County has a unique park system that is "the envy" of other counties in the state. The county has seven parks, with camping facilities at five.

Falk said the parks are successful because the commissioners and taxpayers are willing to invest in the parks and because of the good work being done by the park managers. "We have so few complaints about our parks it's unbelievable," said Falk.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

(320) 894-9750